Opinion: We are ready for new age in cultural politics

Helen Sildna.
Helen Sildna. Source: Laura Nestor

Creative entrepreneur and chief executive of Ltd Shiftworks Helen Sildna writes that the field of culture has suffered a lot over the past year and a half and in this light, the sector is ready for intelligent and respectful cooperation with the new Minister of Culture Tiit Terik.

Tiit Terik was appointed the new minister of culture on Wednesday after the former Minister of Culture Anneli Ott (Center) resigned on Tuesday, ostensibly due to fundamental issues between her and the rest of the cabinet on the handling of the pandemic.

It's important to understand that the cultural and tourism sectors were hit the hardest by Covid all over the world. Surviving, adjusting to the changes, but also leading changes, new activity models and innovation are the main subjects on which the future of Estonia's culture depends.

This is a historical moment: Whether to support the toughness of Estonia's creative sector, the creativeness, consistency, initiative so that the whole sector would be able to climb to a completely new development level or let the initiative fade away and opportunities slip through our hands? It's a crossroad where it's hard for a minister to score popularity points and please everybody, but it's still viable for a committed person to find a social support point for something historically important.

The crisis has brought out acute and structural issues: It transpires that the people's awareness of the effect and volume of the cultural and creative sector (5 percent of the occupied, 3 percent of GDP and 11.6 percent of Estonia's companies) is incomplete.

Out of fear, we have had to witness that even a lot of politicians still consider culture an expense and luxury or that only national institutions operate in the sector while the facts should be known by today: The culture sector is, in addition to the sense of self-determination and self-expression, an economic branch, employer, international competition advantage, exporter, motivator of the young and supporter of mental health. 90 percent of the music sector in Estonia had never received any support from the state before the crisis.

As the challenges awaiting the sector are great, the new minister should sense the importance and the role of the sector, understand social procedures, experience in leading. The knowledge, content and arguments come from the field itself so the cooperation has to be strong. There's no time to try. Everything needs to happen immediately and at the same time. One thing is sure - the crisis has bonded the sector, our expectations for ourselves and structures in charge of culture policy are high.

The expectations for the new minister facing the greatest crisis the sector has ever been through should be a strategical discussion point for the whole state, not just a reputational question for one party.

My expectations of topics the minister should address in the next 1.5 years:

  • To increase (together with the field) the awareness of government members and the state apparatus about the impact of the cultural field on the Estonian economy and society.
  • To strengthen the competitive advantage of the field through an effective presence, representing the Estonian cultural and creative sector both in Estonia and internationally, using all opportunities to increase the influence of Estonian culture.
  • Commit to listening to, negotiating, gathering arguments and then presenting them to the government and finding the best solutions in the way out of the crisis and in developing future scenarios. The goal should be far from just the next aid package, but also smarter investments, new types of cooperation and major cross-sectoral projects.
  • Boost the creative industries and cultural exports and treat sector employees equally and transparently on the basis of clear basic principles, sector-specific performance indicators and impact studies.
  • Introduce annual impact studies on the cultural and creative sectors, with the aim of creating a knowledge-based foundation and a strong argumentative framework that will protect the sector from future marginalization and populist decisions.
  • Initiate, together with other ministries and local governments, regional development programs that would help to harmonize the quality of life across Estonia and create new outlets and opportunities for cultural creators.
  • Initiate innovation programs that would integrate the digital revolution, green revolution, fair transition and other future directions of the Estonian cultural sector into Estonia's development processes.
  • Strengthen co-operation in the field with Enterprise Estonia, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to strengthen Estonia's international image.
  • Develop, together with the industry and other state structures, a solution that drastically and rapidly increases the creative industry's ability to access European funds, with the aim of bringing new financial opportunities, competencies and partners to the industry.

This list could be continued, but one thing is clear - the area has suffered a lot during the last 1.5 years. We have enhanced our teams and activity plans, learned from each other and our international colleagues, adjusted, rearranged, negotiated and redefined. Every one of us has made our inventory and critical self-analysis.

We are ready for intelligent and respectful cooperation. We are ready for the new age of cultural politics. The sector is waiting for an equal partner, the attitude that cultural policy is created together with the field of culture, i.e. with music, film, literature, art, design, architecture, cinema and theater companies, organizations and development centers, not anywhere away from us.


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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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